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Psychological abuse is real!
Many don't even realize they are in a toxic relationship enduring psychological abuse, for many reasons, some of which I will address here. Let's first begin with defining what psychological abuse is, also known as emotional abuse. Hoffman (1984) is one of the few authors who has offered a definition of psychological abuse, "behavior sufficiently threatening to the woman so that she believes that her capacity to work, to interact in the family or society, or to enjoy good physical or mental health, has been or might be threatened" (Hoffman, 1984, p. 37). Some common beliefs on what constitutes psychological abuse include hostile verbal communication, little or no tenderness, issuing orders, disregard for desires or feeling, social isolation, social humiliation, constant surveillance, and economic deprivation (Hoffman, 1984; Kasper, 1982; Walker, 1979). These earlier researchers provided an initial solid perspective on this form of abuse, however there is much not considered that is critical in today's culture to be mindful of in defining and understanding psychological/emotional abuse, which would include males as recipients, other diversity factors such as type of relationship (hetero vs. homosexual relationships), and subjective perspectives on what constitutes as psychological abuse (culturally influenced). Unfortunately, research on this topic is scarce, perhaps due to it being underreported given those enduring the abuse may be fearful of reporting or in denial of the severity of their abuse; if they would even consider it as such. Unlike physical abuse, which is often easily visible, psychological and verbal abuse can be subtle, elusive, and difficult to pinpoint.
More recent research recognizes the critical systemic implications this abuse endures on the recipient's mental health and emotional state (inter and intrapersonal relationship). Challenges presented with research across the years has been on the validity of the measurement tools in identifying psychological abuse given how subjective it can be; reflecting many different theoretical lenses such as feminist, social learning, attachment, etc. informing what is questioned and measured (verbal, intensity, etc.) accordingly. The lack of research on this abuse is a disservice to all, as this abuse is a silent killer.
For those of you questioning if you are experiencing psychological abuse, know that you don't have to check off boxes, as you know your truth, so whether it's considered psychological, physical, or any version of these, you should seek help. Everyone's experience of abuse falls somewhere on a continuum on an abuse scale, and no matter where you are on that scale, you don't need to wait for it to get worse, as many may minimize and normalize their experiences and not seek help. It is indeed easier said than done. Like physical abuse, those enduring psychological are fearful of leaving their significant other for many reasons. Usually, it's due to the power the abuser has over them; many experiencing gaslighting, as abusers, are manipulators. Perhaps leaving the relationship is risky at the time for some reason, regardless I encourage at least to seek individual therapy to process what you are going through to develop your self-worth and empower you to make some decisions that will free you from the chains of psychological abuse. The challenge here is that some of who you reading this right now are not sure if you would consider your situation as psychological abuse, but as I noted earlier if you are even considering your relationship is toxic enough to consider you are enduring some form of abuse you should seek help. "Help" comes in many ways, aside from therapy; there are smaller steps people take to care for themselves, such as turning to family and friends, seeking religious/spiritual guidance, developing healthy habits and distractions.
I recently came across an article by Pietrangelo (2018) that I believe is very helpful in understanding the signs and manifestation of the abuser's tactics and some tips on what to do accordingly. Below I am referencing four main tactics the author highlights.
1) Humiliation, negating, criticizing -undermining your self-esteem.
Examples include: name-calling; derogatory "pet names;" character assassination; yelling; patronizing; public embarrassment; dismissiveness; "joking"; sarcasm; insults of your appearance; belittling your accomplishments; put-downs of your interests; and pushing your buttons
2) Control and shame
Examples include: threats; monitoring your whereabouts; digital spying; unilateral decision-making; financial control; lecturing; direct orders; outbursts; treating you like a child; feigned helplessness; Unpredictability; they walk out in a social situation; and gaslighting
3) Accusing, blaming, and denial
Examples include: jealousy; turning the tables; denying something you know is true; using guilt; goading then blaming; denying their abuse; accusing you of abuse; trivializing; saying you have no sense of humor; blaming you for their problems; destroying and denying
4) Emotional neglect and isolation
Examples include: demanding respect; shutting down communication; dehumanizing you; keeping you from socializing; trying to come between you and your family; withholding affection; tuning you out; actively working to turn others against you; calling you needy; interrupting; indifference; and disputing your feelings
What are some steps you can take if you think you are a victim of psychological abuse or any abuse for that matter? Here are few tips to consider (not a comprehensive list):
1) know that you are not responsible for the abuse; 2) create boundaries between you and the abuser to determine what are your next steps, including potentially exiting the relationship - you should seek counsel of professionals (therapists, lawyers, church, etc.) and loved ones; 3) secure safety (if you cannot or don't know how to, seek someone that may be able to guide you in determining what that may include, such as the abuse hotline or even the police nonemergency number. Of course, if your life is in danger, call 911; 4) seek support and resources of family and friends; and 5) seek mental health professional help (psychotherapist)
Start today, with a very small step, and that is to tell your self, "My life is precious!" "I deserve respect," and "I deserve peace and joy." Second, don't live in fear and secrets. Find someone you can trust and feel safe to process some of your pain. If not ready to see a professional in person (therapy), which I strongly recommend, but again there can be legitimate reasons not to be ready, is to connect to appropriate support communities perhaps to feel anonymity (groups, social media channels-chat/groups, and spiritual/religious entities) and read (like this blog on similar topics) to become informed and empowered.
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